Phd for Executives: where practice meets theory

Ilse Daelman is Managing Director at the Antwerp Management School (AMS) and one of the first graduates of the Phd for Executives, which is offered by AMS together with the University of Antwerp. She successfully defended her doctoral thesis on understanding entrepreneurial motives in March this year.

Ilse had been working in the corporate world for 15 years, before she decided to partake in the PhD programme for executives. “I wanted to broaden my horizon, to acquire new skills and to make a new subject matter my own. And that is exactly what an Phd for Executives is all about.”

Why Ilse liked the programme? 

  • “You gain insights in ways that corporate careers rarely provide. Academic literature, for instance, has a lot to offer to business professionals, but you wouldn’t typically know this. Simply by learning to use academic sources, you become more critical when reflecting on business problems.
  • I also liked the modular approach. The program is built in a way that you obtain educational credits by joining classes, submitting assignments that contribute to your own research, and by attending doctoral conferences. AMS and UAntwerp help in gaining access to such conferences, but also in mastering the skills to present your own research and to discuss the research of peers.
  • While the level of autonomy is very high, you can rely on your personal supervisors and the broader network of expert faculty. You also become part of an international community of doctoral students with different backgrounds, expertise domains, and personal drivers. This makes the programme all the more enriching.”

Not just in it for the money

“Entrepreneurs often have to contend with bias. Many people still think that entrepreneurs are economically-driven and ‘in it for the money’. Yet there are so many other reasons why people choose to be an entrepreneur: autonomy, making a positive impact on society, etc.”

Ilse wanted to create a better understanding of entrepreneurs and their motivations. “My research resulted in the development of a measurement instrument for entrepreneurial motivations and in identifying and characterizing different types of entrepreneurs. The outcomes demonstrated how being ‘non-economically driven’ does not impede ambition. My research makes a plea for a better appraisal of the diversity and the potential that different entrepreneurial types represent.”

Unproductive time

Managing the combination of work, private life and a PhD takes a lot of perseverance and discipline. “As contradictory as it may sound, you need ‘unproductive’ time: time to reflect, to process. At work, you are on top of things, you usually know how to handle a situation. But when you are doing a PhD, you don’t always feel like you know what you’re doing. So you need to give yourself time to get to that point during your research.”

“It really helps if you have a strong support network, both at home and at work: people who understand why you are doing it and who are okay with the fact that work-life-PhD balance will be a bit off sometimes.”

Enjoy the ride

“I feel privileged that I had the opportunity to do this. You get to do top-level, meaningful research, surrounded by people who are willing to share their expertise. You become part of a new community, tapping into so much knowledge and discovering so many different ways to tackle challenges. It gives you a very powerful toolkit for the future.

“All in all, the programme takes you on an impactful journey, both on a personal and a professional level. It pushes you out of your comfort zone and introduces you to a fascinating new world, where practice meets theory. It wasn’t easy at times, but I’ve enjoyed the ride.”

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